Conservatives are dowsing their Nike sneakers in lighter fluid and setting them on fire in their backyards. They can toss them on the pyre next to their Keurig machines, Starbucks mugs, artisanal seasonings from Penzeys Spices, and other products that have angered the right.
On Monday, Nike rolled out a new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the unsigned NFL quarterback who became a conservative pariah for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality. “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” the ad reads across Kaepernick’s picture. Within hours of the campaign’s launch, right-wingers were uploading pictures of them destroying the Nike shoes and socks they had already purchased, in a bungled attempt at a boycott.
“First the @NFL forces me to choose between my favorite sport and my country,” a Twitter user wrote above a video, ostensibly of him burning his Nike sneakers and a portion of his lawn. “I chose country. Then @Nike forces me to choose between my favorite shoes and my country. Since when did the American Flag and the National Anthem become offensive?”
The NFL, an organization that from 2012 to 2015 accepted $5.6 million in Department of Defense funding to promote military demonstrations, did not force anyone to choose between football and the United States. Nor did Kaepernick or other athletes protest the national anthem. Their quiet demonstrations were meant to protest police brutality and its disproportionate use against African-Americans.
Instead, conservative media portrayed Kaepernick as anti-American, prompting President Donald Trump to repeatedly attack the athlete in tweets and at rallies. NFL teams rolled out new rules policing how their athletes can exercise their free speech rights on the field, and have refused to sign Kaepernick to their teams.
Some conservatives were so aggrieved that they sacrificing their Nike products over the ad campaign. Other Twitter users photographed themselves cutting the Nike logo off their socks, a move that rendered the socks useless and did not cost Nike any money. InfoWars host Alex Jones retweeted a poll asking whether he should either burn his Nikes, shoot them with a gun, or give them to the homeless. As of Tuesday afternoon, the gun option was winning.
The shoe-burning campaign follows similar drive to sabotage products that have provoked conservative ire.
Other brands have witnessed a similar play. When Keurig, a coffee machine company, pulled its ads from Sean Hannity’s primetime Fox News show, the pundit's fans filmed themselves throwing their already-purchased Keurig machines off balconies, or hitting them with baseball bats. And when conservatives claimed Starbucks was orchestrating an anti-Christian plot for omitting explicitly Christian art from its holiday cups, some social media users attempted to “trick” the coffee giant by asking indifferent baristas to write “Merry Christmas” on their cups.
Arguably the first company to attract Republican angry under the Trump administration was Penzeys, a food seasoning company whose owner sent a mass email condemning Trump and his voters after the election. The move earned the company conservative blog headlines like “Meet Penzeys, The Rabidly Leftist Spice Company That Hates Pro-Lifers, Christians And Republicans.” The outrage also helped Penzeys sell a lot of spices, the New Yorker reported.
After all, few of the outrage campaigns are effective boycotts. The Hannity fans smashed Keurig machines they’d already purchased. The Starbucks blitz asked aggrieved Christians to buy more Starbucks coffees. And liberals have conducted similar doomed campaigns, with some left-leaning Twitter users burning their New Balance shoes after they thought the company made a pro-Trump statement.
The stunts aren’t really boycotts at all, but attempts to channel political impotence through consumption. One American can’t change much with a vote, but she can easily set fire to her sneakers, in accordance with her political leanings.
After Penzey’s anti-Trump statement, a Republican relative sent me a Penzey’s gift card that someone had purchased for him but that he could, in good conscience, no longer personally use. When I tried to spend it on some smoked paprika, the Penzeys website did not appear to accept gift cards at checkout, and I couldn’t muster the political willpower to contact a customer service representative about the issue.
Conservatives might talk big about boycotting Penzeys, but the company made $50 from my family’s purchase and subsequent refusal to use the gift card.